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In re C.W.

October 29, 2010

IN RE: C.W.
APPEAL OF: CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Leavitt

Submitted: July 23, 2010

BEFORE: HONORABLE BONNIE BRIGANCE LEADBETTER, President Judge, HONORABLE MARY HANNAH LEAVITT, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES R. KELLEY, Senior Judge.

OPINION

The City of Philadelphia, Department of Human Services (Human Services) appeals an order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County directing it to pay restitution to a victim of C.W., who was a child in foster care when he committed an act of vandalism.*fn1 Because the trial court lacked authority to order restitution, we reverse.

C.W. was committed to the care of Human Services on December 6, 2005, and placed into a foster home. On August 2, 2007, a juvenile petition was filed in Delaware County, alleging that C.W., who was 12 at that time, had entered a vehicle impound yard on June 25, 2007, with three other youths and vandalized over 20 vehicles. The petition stated that C.W. lived in Philadelphia with his grandmother. On October 17, 2007, a hearing on the petition was conducted by the Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County at which C.W. was adjudicated delinquent. The court ordered restitution in the amount of $16,886.43, described as "joint and several and placed on the parents." Reproduced Record at 4 (R.R. __). The court then transferred C.W.'s case to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas (trial court) for disposition.

The trial court's disposition hearing took place on January 15, 2008. The court placed C.W. on probation and ordered restitution in the amount of $4,221.20, to be paid by C.W.'s parents.*fn2

On April 1, 2008, a review of C.W.'s delinquency and dependency matters was heard by the trial court. The Assistant District Attorney (District Attorney) stated that C.W. had been in compliance with the terms of his probation, with the exception of the restitution order. The District Attorney requested that the case be returned to Delaware County for amendment of the restitution order to make C.W., instead of his parents, responsible for the $4,221.20 payment. The court inquired into C.W.'s custody and learned that Human Services had placed C.W. in foster care with his grandmother, who was planning to adopt him. The trial court observed that because C.W. was a ward of Human Services at the time of the delinquent act, Human Services had the responsibility to pay the restitution. Further, the trial court observed that C.W. was not old enough to work and earn the amount needed to satisfy the restitution award. The trial court did not immediately issue a ruling, however, so that Human Services could research and brief the legal question of its liability for C.W.'s restitution.

On May 5, 2008, a second hearing was conducted by the trial court. At the hearing, the District Attorney explained that the only concern of his office was that the restitution be paid, without regard to who paid it. Counsel for C.W. then requested time to consider the issue. The trial court granted the request and the hearing was continued.*fn3

On August 11, 2008, a third hearing was held. The hearing transcript is four pages in length. Without any discussion of the issue, the trial court ordered Human Services "to pay restitution in the amount of $4,221.20." R.R. 44.

Human Services appealed the trial court's order to the Superior Court on September 4, 2008. On October 7, 2008, Human Services filed a concise statement of matters complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa. R.A.P. 1925(b), and the trial court issued an opinion on December 10, 2009. Because one of the issues raised in the appeal involved governmental immunity, the Superior Court transferred the appeal to this Court.

In its statement of matters complained of on appeal, Human Services argued that the trial court erred and abused its discretion because the court lacked statutory authority to order Human Services to make restitution on behalf of a juvenile committed to its care. Human Services reasoned that it did not meet the statutory definition of a "parent" set forth in Chapter 55 of the Domestic Relations Code (Domestic Code), titled "Liability for Tortious Acts of Children," 23 Pa. C.S. §5501, and this statute is the exclusive authority for holding a person liable for the tortious acts of a child. Further, Human Services noted that this act limits parental liability to $1,000. 23 Pa. C.S. §5505(a)(1). Accordingly, even if the trial court deemed Human Services to be a "parent," the court could not order it to pay more than $1,000 in damages. Finally, Human Services argued that it was immune from any liability under the act commonly known as the Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, 42 Pa. C.S. §§8541-8542.

In its opinion, the trial court explained that the Juvenile Act authorized its order. The trial court cited Section 6352(a)(5) of the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa. C.S. §6352(a)(5), as the basis for its discretion to fashion an award of restitution where a juvenile commits a delinquent act, and Section 6310 of the Juvenile Act, 42 Pa. C.S. §6310, for its authority to hold Human Services liable for payment of the restitution. As to the statutory limit of $1,000, the trial court agreed that Human Services was not a parent as defined by the Domestic Code, but it was irrelevant inasmuch as the court's order was based upon the Juvenile Act, not the Domestic Code. Finally, the trial court held that governmental immunity did not bar its order of restitution.

Human Services now appeals to this Court.*fn4 Again, it contends that the trial court lacked statutory authority to order Human Services to pay restitution. First, it argues that the Juvenile Act does not authorize a court to hold Human Services liable for C.W.'s acts. Second, it argues that the trial court's restitution order is barred by governmental immunity.

We begin with a consideration of whether there was statutory authority for the trial court's restitution order, since "an order of restitution must be based upon statutory authority." In re M.W., 555 Pa. at 511, 725 A.2d at 731. Absent statutory authority, "the ...


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